National Writing Project

Book Review: School's Out! by Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz

By: Monie Hayes
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2
Date: Spring 2003

Summary: Hayes find this book's greatest strength to be the "solid attention it gives to the growing body of research into out-of-school literacies and their relationship to scholastic goals."

 

School's Out! Bridging Out-of-School Literacies with Classroom Practice
Edited by Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz. Teachers College Press, 2002. $25.95; 288 pages. ISBN 0-8077-4189-2

With school systems across the country taking a more active interest in after-school programs, School's Out! Bridging Out-of-School Literacies with Classroom Practice comes as a timely publication. This is true even though, as coeditors/contributing authors Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz point out, the study of literacy beyond the schoolhouse has been a cutting-edge pursuit for some time. For the past quarter-century, Hull and Schultz contend, scholarship addressing literate practices outside the classroom has done more to advance our understanding of what it means to be literate than studies of in-school literacy have. Moreover, the study of individuals' multiple literacies often reveals that what it means to be literate is not fixed or universal, but, rather, is contingent upon a speaker or writer's purpose and cultural milieu.

These qualities of fluidity and diversity are apparent in the studies presented throughout this book, beginning with those that Hull and Schultz use to demonstrate the wisdom of extending our understanding of literacy beyond fluency in a set of language arts. Accordingly, each of the book's chapters answers, or seeks to answer, Paulo Friere's call for transformative literacy—the idea of reading and writing to become more fully human and to people a culture that is more humane. As contributors Juan C. Guerra and Marcia Farr point out, "Despite the fact that over the years an array of scholars have urged us as writing teachers to take into consideration the discursive and rhetorical practices students bring with them, too many of us are still hamstrung by our assumed responsibility to focus narrowly on issues of grammar, mechanics, spelling, and organization" (118). But even those of us who aren't stuck thusly will find School's Out! a valuable read. The collection is compelling for both literacy scholars and instructors.

The first three parts of School's Out! look at literacy theory, literacy in the context of home and community, and after-school literacy programs; the concluding fourth part asks readers to consider the policy implications of the shift toward recognizing outside-school literacies and fostering literacy outside school. The book is well organized, not only in the sequence of its parts but also in their balance. Of note is the equipoise that the book's dialogic format affords: at the close of each chapter examining a study and its implications for practice, two professionals offer a response. While I was impressed by the various studies themselves, I found the critical responses likewise constructive.

In the book's opening chapter, Hull and Schultz lay out a detailed theoretical road map of the viewpoints that have framed literacy studies. Indeed, we find that most research into literacy has been carried out in school settings because literacy has been considered the province of educational researchers. But as researchers began to consider anthropological as well as a psychological perspectives, they were moved, specifically by the early twentieth-century Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky's insistence that the acquisition of literacy is an interactive and thus fundamentally social process, to consider literacy as it is acquired and enacted in the broader social landscape beyond teacher and learner.

These conceptual trends have extended scholarly appreciation of literacy beyond a focus on schoolhouse, skills, and self. More recently, what Hull and Schultz dub the new literacy studies have built upon anthropological, sociolinguistic, and ethnographic applications to consider the ways in which literacy affects relationships of power. Such work invites us to apprehend the various achievements of literacy as it is informed by social context at both the micro- and macrolevels. For instance, scholars engaged in the new literacy studies have turned their attention to the practice of literacy as it is embedded in the workplace, including access to technological proficiency, and to the increasing circulation of knowledge, or information, as a commodity.

Following this overview, the editor-authors offer examples of ethnographic studies to illustrate the implications of evolving theory about various after-school and outside-school literacy programs. The contributing authors do so as well, presenting studies in which individuals' performance of home- and community-based literacies are incongruous with these subjects' apparent acquisition (or lack) of formal skills. For instance, Ellen Skilton-Sylvester chronicles a Cambodian American girl's expressive use of literate and visual representations outside school, a literate habit that belies her apparent lack of scholastic aptitude as well as her in-school persona. Skillton-Sylvester's chapter reminds us that learning is social in more ways than one, as she relates the social pressures not to be bookish that the girl and her group of Cambodian girlfriends encounter in their Philadelphia school. In another study, Juan C. Guerra and Marcia Farr describe the communicative competence of two mexicana adults residing in a Chicago neighborhood.

From here, we move to several reports on outside-school literacy learning projects. Elenore Long, Wayne Peck, and Joyce Baskins's chapter about a Chicago program called STRUGGLE invites readers to consider the potential of bridging generations as well as renegotiating the boundaries that render some activities school-based and others informal literate enterprises without instructional support. I found myself excited at the promise this program holds for using writing as a medium to build teens' self-concepts, their relationships with grown-ups, and their decision-making skills. The collection also presents two accounts of outside-school programs using Michael Cole and Peg Griffin's Fifth Dimension program, including an account of a service-learning project that brought together university students and children who live in a poor neighborhood. The Fifth Dimension program uses a fantasy figure called the Wizard to engage kids in an interactive computer network that includes children and adults from Russia and from across the United States. Each of the collected chapters is more theoretically nuanced and richly reported than a book review can illustrate fully—which is one reason why I recommend School's Out!

Throughout the text, the contributors caution readers to take care that they don't romanticize outside-school literacy simply because it exists beyond the cinderblock walls. Especially where the goal seems to be extending knowledge of what it means to be literate, and accommodating unofficial literacies so that people can grow in all aspects of literate capacity, it is unproductive to create new dichotomies to replace the old ones. Such a deliberate and reflective approach to expanding the boundaries of literacy learning is welcome and wise.

School's Out! culminates in Elyse Eidman-Aadahl's final chapter, in which she asks readers to contemplate the implications of our growing appreciation of beyond-school literacies: with whom and in the service of what agendas will literacy scholars and instructors collaborate? Eidman-Aadahl also calls upon literacy educators and other advocates for kids to adopt a wide and deep perspective so that when we engage with the issue of outside-school programs for kids, we can see the big picture and thus be conscious of whether we are looking at the proverbial tail or trunk of the creature that is literacy, and consider who else might be seeking to tame it as well. She provides a useful overview of recent initiatives to support outside-school literacy programs, the agendas that inform them, and their potentials and likely pitfalls. According to the author, we need to examine our purposes and our partnerships before we rush to programming decisions. We need to think about what we're doing and why when we promote the study or support of outside-school literacy activities and programs, and about their relationship to classroom discourse and objectives.

Perhaps the book's greatest contribution is that it is a solid addition to the growing body of research and theoretical inquiry into outside-school literacies and their relationship to both institutional and individual scholastic goals. Through it, Hull and Schultz hope to "signal the importance of building bridges between school, home, and community" (3). They, along with the other writers represented here, meet this goal and, in fact, surpass it to the degree that readers move beyond recognition and allow this insight to inform our practice and our partnerships.

About the Author Monie Hayes is a Ph.D. student of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Iowa, where she teaches undergraduate courses in reading and public speaking.

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